I am supremely fascinated by one particular variation of the QB ISO Michigan ran with Denard Robinson last year. One of the first times I saw this play, or at least recognized it, was during the Notre Dame game in 2010.
Michigan had gone through I think one or two drives that stalled pretty badly–in spite of some minor successes, they couldn’t get first downs. Notre Dame had scored by this time, but the starting quarterback went out of the game after diving in for the touchdown. Michigan’s (HISTORICALLY AWFUL DEFENSE!) had intercepted the backup quarterback’s pass and Michigan was at the Notre Dame 31 yard line. Michigan lines up in a shotgun trips left, with a tight end, and h back to the strong side.
At the snap, the play starts to develop into a QB off tackle run, one which is wildly successful later in the game, with the half back lead blocking for Robinson. The safety screams towards the line of scrimmage to meet the play, and the (nickle back?) cheats in towards the back field and leaves the slot receiver alone, as it was already well established that Robinson could run the football. At this point the strong safety and corner back are giving the remaining two receivers a lot of space on the outside, and it looks as if the screen pass is going to be open for a good gain.
As Denard heads towards the line of scrimmage it becomes obvious that the nickle back and safety aren’t even remotely interested in covering the slot man, leaving him absolutely wide open for an easy throw. Because the nickle back is out of position, having assumed the safety would be there to cover his man, there’s no one to defend against the throw or catch Roundtree as he races into the end zone.
Easy looking touchdown.
So why do I talk about option offenses in the title when this looks like a pass play? Because the option, like this play, is designed to catch a defender out of position, leaving one of the possible options open for a nice gain. In this instance the option is a run, a throw to the slot receiver, or what looks like a possible screen pass.
The threat of Denard running leaves the defense in a position to either cover everybody and let him run free as he’s done most of the season, or to cheat up and meet him at the point of attack, leaving a guy wide open.
This is why I liked the Rodriguez offense last year, in spite of the team’s struggles. This is one hell of a play, helped by Notre Dame defenders being wildly out of position.